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Coronavirus under occupation: Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails fear the worst

Palestinians demand coronavirus protection for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails [Anadolu/Getty]

Date of publication: 26 March, 2020

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Conflicting reports, recent measures taken by the Israeli authorities, and the prisons' cramped conditions have led many to call for action to be taken.

As the deadly novel coronavirus spreads throughout Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza, there is widespread concern for the safety and well being of the thousands of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons.

As of yet, there have been no confirmed cases or casualties reported as a result of COVID-19 within Israel's prisons. But conflicting reports, recent measures taken by the Israeli authorities, and the prisons' cramped conditions have led many to call for urgent action to be taken.

In one incident, two Palestinian prisoners who were forced to quarantine for 10 days at Ramla prison after their Shin Bet interrogator was found to have the novel coronavirus, were released Wednesday by Israeli forces.

The release of Ahmad Nassar and Ibrahim Awad at the Beit Sera checkpoint, west of Ramallah, follows contradictory reports around a precautionary quarantine imposed on a group of prisoners in Israel's Megiddo Prison.

The Palestinian Prisoners Club and the Hamas-run Prisoners Information Centre claimed the prisoners had contracted coronavirus, whereas the Israel Prison's Service said the measure was merely a precaution.

The contradictory reports has led many to call for the prisoners to be released.

There are also indications that Palestinian detainees are gearing up for a hunger strike in protest at Israel's failure to safeguard them against coronavirus.

Prisoners protest 

Palestine Prisoner Club said Tuesday that prisoners in several Israeli prisons have begun returning meals in protest at their treatment, The New Arab's Arabic-language service reported.

Palestinian prisoners have threatened to launch a hunger strike in protest at Israeli measures - which includes the lack of protective clothing worn by guards.

Israel's prison administration has taken a series of controversial measures since the outbreak of coronavirus in the region, the PPC said in a statement, such as withdrawing cleaning materials from prisons and barring lawyers and family from visiting.

"The prison administration is systematically exploiting the circumstance imposed by the coronavirus to pounce on our remaining rights," Palestinian prisoners in Negev prison were quoted as saying in the statement.

"As the world acknowledges the recommendations of human rights organisations to release detainees and prisoners to prevent the outbreak of corona, the Israeli occupation continues to detain 5,000 Palestinian prisoners, including patients, women and children," they said.

A Palestinian political prisoner detained in Nafha prison is reported to have set fire to a room used by prison guards Wednesday morning in protest at health conditions, Press TV reported.

Prisoner Ayman Sharabati set the room on fire when prisoners were on a daily walk outside of their cells, according to head of the Commission for Prisoners Affairs at the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Qadri Abu Bakr.

Abu Bakr said Israel's prison service had reduced the medical staff in its jails to just one nurse per facility, and warned that if the situation detonated further, prisoners would react harshly.

Calls for release

Palestinian activists have launched a media campaign to secure the release of Palestinian prisoner from Israeli jails amid the spread of coronavirus. 

38 organisations from around the world will be participating in the online campaign, Amman Net reported.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates joined the call for prisoners to be released Wednesday, saying the Israel Prisons Service was not providing adequate protection.

"Israel is in violation of its obligations under international law, the Geneva Conventions and human rights principles that demand Israel, as the occupying power, … take full and direct responsibility for the life and health of the prisoners," the ministry's statement read according to Press TV.

Hamas has also accused Israel of neglecting to protect its Palestinian prisoners from coronavirus.

"The life and safety of the prisoners is a red line," wrote Abu Obedia, a spokesman for Hamas' Izaddin Al-Qassam arm, last week.

Writing on Twitter, he urged Israel to release all Palestinian prisoners, on the basis that it could not protect them from diseases, including the highly infectious COVID-19.

The group also urged Israeli authorities to release ill prisoners, women and children.

Read More: Trapped between Israel's occupation and coronavirus: How are Palestinians coping with the pandemic?

Other Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip have called on human rights organisations and the World Health Organisation to "move quickly to save the lives of the Palestinian prisoners".

"Our heroic prisoners are at the top of the Palestinian resistance's priorities, and we will continue to use all options to release them," they said in a statement.

"We will not abandon our duty to defend their rights."

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